COSTA MESA — The Orange Coast College defense appeared to pick up where it left off last season in the Pirates' intrasquad football scrimmage Saturday at OCC. But despite the offense's struggles on the ground against a unit that ranked No. 3 in the state in 2009 against the run, Pirates coaches said they clearly saw areas in which the offense gained ground, compared to last season's preseason scrimmage.
"We were light years ahead of last year," Offensive Coordinator Junior Tagaloa told his players after the 51-play controlled rehearsal, which included moving the chains and a full officiating crew.
Those gains were difficult to see on the ground, as six sacks helped limit the Pirates to minus-nine yards rushing on 30 attempts.
The defense, under first-year coordinator John Young — who steps in to replace Scott Orloff, who is now head coach at Trabuco Hills High — also scored the game's first touchdown and made several plays that had the players, and some spectators, howling.
But three quarterbacks helped the Pirates' passing attack produce 210 yards and one of the team's two offensive touchdowns.
Zach Emde, a redshirt freshman out of Murrieta Valley High, completed four of seven passes for 83 yards playing with the first unit. He was intercepted once, when sophomore defensive end Nick O'Neil hauled in a deflected pass in the pocket and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown on the seventh play of the day.
A.J. Josue, out of Trabuco Hills, the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, connected on six of 11 passes for 55 yards.
And third-stringer James Ohri, a freshman out of Mayfair High in Lakewood, completed two of three attempts, including a 73-yard scoring bomb to former Monsoons teammate Brandon Estrada.
The performance of the quarterbacks was a point of interest going in for OCC Coach Mike Taylor, who learned just before preseason drills began that Matt Viles, an All-CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division performer last season at Edison who had spent the summer in the program, had elected not to play this season.
Viles, the Sunset League MVP who led the Chargers to a 13-1 record and an appearance in the Pac-5 championship game last season, was also the Offensive MVP for the South in the Orange County All-Star Game played at OCC in July. Viles, a two-year starter at Edison, threw for 2,948 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2009 and ranks No. 2 at Edison in career passing yards (5,230), career touchdown passes (49), and single-season touchdown passes (28). His 485-yard passing performance last season against Dana Hills is a school record.
"He just decided not to play," Taylor said of Viles. "He has some talent and he brought something a little different [than the other quarterbacks] to the table. He made some great throws this summer and the receivers liked him. It's unfortunate [that he is not playing], but it has given an opportunity to the other [quarterbacks]."
Tagaloa praised all three quarterbacks, though admitting that Josue's outing was hampered by a porous reserve offensive line that allowed him to be sacked five times.
"I think [Josue] just had a poor group of guys [around him] during his series," Tagaloa said.
Two of Emde's completions went for 29 and 33 yards, the latter setting up a lateral pass in the flat to Louis Kimble that produced a four-yard touchdown run to end the starting unit's 15-play series.
That opening series also included a lost fumble, when Kimble dropped a pitchout that was recovered by freshman defensive tackle Chris Magnusen.
Freshman tackle Ross Pitsenberger, freshman linebacker Austin De Nike, sophomore linebacker and Costa Mesa High product Cody De La Mater, freshman end Hanz Jaime, freshman defensive back Charles Young and sophomore end Eric Homec also had sacks.
O'Neil and Marco Delgado had solo tackles for losses, while Homec and sophomore middle linebacker Earnie Sadiao combined on one tackle in the backfield.
Charles Young and sophomore Corey Coppenhaver broke up passes in the secondary, where freshman Dakota Lambert had arguably the biggest hit of the day to stuff a toss play for a short gain.
"The kids were aggressive and they ran around and it seemed like they were having fun, so those are all good things," John Young said. "We're still young and we're raw, so some mistakes are going to be made."
John Young also said three players who sat out with injuries — sophomore linebacker Travis McNaughton (shin splints), sophomore safety Bryan Pali (turf toe) and sophomore linebacker Eric Wiersma, all projected starters — should be ready to return before the season opener, Sept. 4 at home against Saddleback.
Sophomores Kali'i Kunitomo and Keali'i Doll had receptions of 33 and 29 yards, respectively, while running back Robert Penny had two catches for 15 yards.
Freshman tailback Adrain Steen led all rushers with four carries for 21 yards.
Freshman running back Bill Chimphalee, the 2007 Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year who suffered a season-ending wrist injury in last season's scrimmage, carried three times for four yards.
There were no injuries this year, Taylor said.